Lifeboat drills: we need to save lives not lose them

Too many accidents occur during lifeboat drills, but simulation training could help improve safety, says Guy Platten, the UK Chamber's CEO, in this article for Fairplay.

enclosed lifeboat

When accidents happen at sea, the only thing that matters is getting passengers and crew out of danger as soon as possible. It’s ironic, then, that accidents involving lifeboats can be deadly.

In the last ten years globally, there have been 60 seafarer fatalities and 145 serious injuries from testing of lifeboats alone. This is unacceptable.

Last year, five people were killed and ten were seriously injured in incidents pertaining to lifeboats, according to a study by an InterManager office bearer.

The study indicates that enclosed lifeboats appear to be the most dangerous. This type of launch has accounted for 57% of all the lifeboat-related incidents recorded between 1981 and 2016.

According to the data, since 1981 some 60% of accidents have resulted in serious injuries with another 20% resulting in crew fatalities.

The InterManager research suggests hook release problems are the probable cause for the greatest proportion of lifeboat incidents that result in serious injury and death. Incidents are also commonly caused by faulty fall wires and davits; inadequate maintenance checks, poorly trained crew and human error.

Most lifeboat accidents occur during drills. In the case of the cruise ship 'Thomson Majesty' in February 2013, five crew members were killed and three others were injured during a training exercise when the lifeboat they were in fell into the sea, trapping those inside. 

Companies are experiencing resistance from crew when preparing for lifeboat drills as they have concerns regarding the serious safety issues that have been raised during accident investigations. 

We need to ensure seafarers have the appropriate training to operate lifeboats in emergency situations. To do this, we need to ensure seafarers have the confidence to participate in and learn from training exercises. 

Simulation training could provide a safe solution. It has been proven that using lifeboat simulation training as a supplement to and not a substitute for lifeboat drills for as little as 30 hours can greatly increase crew effectiveness, confidence and knowledge, according to a 2017 study by Virtual Marine.

Lifeboat drills are currently conducted in still waters while ships are in dock. This simply isn’t a realistic environment in which to prepare seafarers for emergency situations. Simulators are able to give seafarers experience in a wider range of evacuation scenarios, including some that would be impossible to replicate at sea.  

We also need to safeguard the seafarers of the future. The Merchant Navy Training Board, an important part of the UK Chamber, believes there is a place for simulation training in current cadet programmes. 

Lifeboat drills are a critical part of ship operations, but there is an alternative to hands-on training that must be considered. Simulation provides an effective, straightforward training standard without the need for hands-on practical experience.   

It remains the responsibility of the master and the ship owner/manager to make decisions with respect to safety, as set out in the ISM Code. We urge the industry to seriously consider using simulation as a supplement to real-life lifeboat training. The safety of lives at sea may depend on it.

For more information contact:

Holly Birkett

Communications Manager (content & digital)

020 7417 2868 / 07807 790058